This past Tuesday afternoon, Jenn Carey got off the phone with the national coach for Team Ireland. As an ear-to-ear grin spread across her face, she got lost thinking about the possibility of representing her parent's native country and how cool it would be to race against professional runners – A once distant dream for a 5-3, Irish dancing walk-on from the bay area. She will be soon traveling to Europe to compete in this summer's international track circuit and potentially earn herself a spot on Ireland's 4 x 400m relay at the upcoming World Championships in Russia, track and field's equivalent of a minor league prospect getting called up to the big leagues.
Such events have become the norm for the shy sprinter from Burlingame High School. When the curtain fell on the 2012 outdoor season, Jenn left for the summer with a personal best of 57.06 in the 400m – a mark she set on Feb. 20, 2010, in her first outdoor meet as a Gaucho. It would eventually take her two more years of classes and 71 more races before that time would be broken. This summer, she will leave as the UCSB school record holder in the 200m, 400m and as a member of the 4 x 100m relay and 4 x 400m relay. No one could predict the hurricane that was about to hit the Big West in 2013.
Fast forward to last summer – Travis Anderson, a relatively unknown sprint coach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was quickly putting UW-Milwaukee on the map in the sprints and hurdles. Quiet and meticulous about his training programs, Anderson shared the same focused intensity with his athletes that led him to several All-American awards while at the University of Oregon. Anderson made his mark as a Duck by hammering through workouts, especially on the infamous Hendrix Park hill in South Eugene. Those who had to compete against his athletes in the Horizon Conference became accustomed to seeing Panther athletes perform their best at the end of the year, when it counted the most.
At the NCAA Championships in 2012, Associate Head Coach Cody Fleming took notice. "Travis, in my opinion, was one of the top sprint coaches around that nobody really knew about," he said. "Each year he brought athletes to the NCAA meet and each year that group seemed to be getting larger and better. Coach Dolan and I knew we had a talented group of sprinters and we thought Travis and his blue collar approach to sprint training would be the missing link. I think it all came full circle when we had the Jen break through at the Cal Nevada Meet and Amanda set the school record in the 400m hurdles. Pete, in our post-meet wrap-up declared it Travis Anderson day. It was pretty much on from there on out."
At this year's Big West Championships at Cal State Northridge the Jenn Carey show was rolling. For a live TV audience on Fox Sports, Jenn put on a sprint clinic capturing gold in the 400m, silver in the 200m and the 4 x 400m relay and bronze in the 4 x 100m relay. Her 400m time was a new UCSB school record at 52.29- A mark that currently has her ranked No. 63 in the world according to All-Athletics.com. About an hour after her 200m runner-up finish (in another school record of 23.69) she took the baton in the women's 4 x 400m relay and with a 15m deficit she pulled into second with a go-to-the-well performance over the last 100m. That positioning would hold as the Gaucho women would go onto claim the silver medal and establish a new school record of 3:39.46.
After the Big West Championships, the momentum was building. Her workouts were improving and Travis could sense that something special was on the way. Next up would be Austin, Texas for the First Round of NCAA Qualifying. After coasting into the NCAA West Primary 400m final Jen would once again drop the hammer on the home stretch and close in 52.72, finishing seventh in the West Region and earning herself a bid into the NCAA Final in Eugene, Ore. at historic Hayward Field.
Perhaps her defining moment of the year came auspiciously at the end of the Preliminary meet in the 4 x 400m relay. Taking the baton on the second leg, with yet again another gap to close, Jenn motored around the first stage and like a sling shot accelerated through the back straight. Sprinting wide open, she passed runner after runner. In fact, she didn't stop accelerating throughout the race and left the remaining spectators in Mike Myers Stadium buzzing as they left. Jenn worked her way up to the lead and against a stellar field of three Pac-12 teams amongst others put an exclamation on her season. Her split was a jaw-dropping world class 51.5 seconds. The Gaucho's went on to break the tape in another school record at 3:38.86. The main camera man for the company responsible for filming the competition walked up to Coach Dolan afterwards and couldn't stop talking about the "blue dot" he saw screaming across his screen.
Carey would go on to a top-20 finish at the NCAA Championships with a time of 53.65. Not her best time of the season, but a race three and a half seconds faster than she had ever run before this year. Time and time again she faced the top runners in the region and rose to the occasion at each opportunity. With a European schedule ahead and the chance to compete against the top runners in the world, Jenn's story would appear to be just beginning. Her workouts continue to improve and her Nascar-esque turnover continues to redline as she flies through each turn. Coach Anderson is confident she's ready to break free and head overseas.
Or as the old Irish Proverb goes:
A watched kettle never boils.